I reject my birthday as a day of celebration. It has always been a confusing day for me. Even as a child my birthday has always felt performative; I participated entirely out of obligation and social conformity. I feel detached from the date because it feels arbitrary and meaningless, not like “my special day.” It feels like celebrating something I’ve never known. Not until coming out of the fog have I realized that celebrating the day feels like celebrating a loss.
My birthday, each April, each 18th, is more a reminder of the chasm, the infinite abyss, that my past is. With each revolution of the Earth I’m told to be happy on a day that is more of a reminder of all that was lost and remains lost.
The best birthday I ever had was in college. I texted a couple of close friends after a long day in the library procrastinating and told them it was my birthday. I wanted to stop by for a quick glass of whiskey, nothing else, nothing fancy. I stopped by one of their off-campus houses, a friend poured me a glass, we sat and listened to music for about 20 minutes and chatted. We sipped our bottom-shelf Irish Whiskey out of mismatched cups as Chromeo played in the background and vinyl paint slowly peeled off the high walls. After emptying my glass, I walked back to my dorm, belly warm, light-headed, by myself in the dark and climbed into my lofted bed and slept just as horribly as I had every other night of the semester. It was perfectly unexceptional. It didn’t remind me of how much I still don’t know, how close we would get, but how far away we still are. It passed like any other day, sparing me from having to pretend to enjoy something I couldn’t.
The worst birthday I ever had maybe wasn’t even that bad, but the picture from it pains me whenever I lay eyes upon it. I’m turning 3, my second birthday in the U.S. and I’m standing on a chair at the head of a large wooden table in my grandparents house. There is a yellow birthday cake topped with frosted gumdrop candies and lit candles. The picture was snapped as my extended family sang me Happy Birthday, mouths open, some of them beaming, others eagerly eyeing the cake. At the head of the table I’m standing with my hands covering my face, terrified or shy or confused, likely some combination of them all. I remember wanting it to end, just wanting it all to be over, not really understanding what was happening. This might be my first real memory.
It’s possible, now that I am reflecting on it, that I didn’t really understand what was happening during that birthday. I don’t know how or if birthdays were celebrated at the orphanage or even how birthdays are marked in India, particularly for children like me, abandoned. Why would anyone want to celebrate the birth of an unwanted child? Until writing those lines, I’ve honestly never made the connection between my disquietude towards my birthday and initial socialization to the cultural practice.
It’s not that I’m not happy I was born, although maybe I’m not, it’s that I can’t comprehend what I’m supposed to be celebrating. It’s life, right? Birthdays are the celebration of life, of a new life coming into the world. I can see that. I get that. I want to be able to celebrate that day, celebrate the world becoming a better place when I arrived, because I know I’m a good person (except I’m not, there are no good people). I want to accept the love of coming into this world but I can’t on that day.
I love me,
I love being here,
although sometimes I don’t.
I dread each year.
I hate April,
I hate 18.
My birthday symbolizes and concentrates all of what I don’t know. It reminds me that I don’t know what time I was born. It reminds me that I don’t know who held me after I came out of the womb. It reminds me that I don’t know my mother’s name.
I’m not against birthdays, or, maybe I am. I’m against my birthday. I’m against feeling obligated to celebrate it. I don’t think I’m going to celebrate it anymore, not like I’ve ever really done much as an adult anyway. I could just adopt (fuck English) a new day to celebrate, except that’s not the point. The point is that I don’t know, that the day is meaningless because it feels arbitrary, because it is unconnected from me, unconnected from her. Birthdays are supposed to bind the mother and child in one shared event, one primordial event. I don’t just need a day, I need to know.
I want to know, I want to be able to repair and have some closure. Making up another day, another month, another year and pretending it matters too won’t work either, it’ll feel just as fake as April. It’ll feel just as fake as the 18th.
I feel so disconnected from that day that as a child I would fantasize that I since my birthday was perhaps only an approximation that I really could be much older. Maybe, I fantasized, I was actually born in 1981 (I would be turning 42 this year). Obviously a gross exaggeration as children are wont to make, but the point is the same, the date provided had no legitimacy.
At this point, I don’t think it matters if I find out somehow that the date provided is my actual date of birth, its not about that, it’s about learning as much as I can about my birth and first family. I want no stand-ins, no surrogates. I’ll settle for the truth, the full truth and nothing but.
I recognize that I need to be careful in stepping back and away from my birthday. It is a tendency of mine, to reject spaces for people to show they care about me without providing a substitute. I think, with all this about rejecting my birthday, I want to remain open to the love given to me on that day. I don’t want to shut out what others feel they can give. Maybe stepping away from my birthday will allow me to create a space or date where I am able to celebrate my life and being with people I love.